Minister promises ‘world class’ checks on fracking

A drilling rig operated by Cuadrilla Resources at Banks, between Southport and Preston
A drilling rig operated by Cuadrilla Resources at Banks, between Southport and Preston
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A top Government minister has promised people in Lancashire a “world-class” regulatory system for the county’s emerging ‘fracking’ industry.

John Hayes, the minister for energy, said he believed the regulatory measures put in place by the Government on Thursday went “above and beyond” those already present in the UK’s oil and gas industry.

It gave the green light for hydraulic fracturing - known as ‘fracking’ - to resume after an 18-month suspension when it was proved fracking caused two earthquakes near Blackpool.

Cuadrilla Resources, the company behind the work in Lancashire, confirmed it is pressing ahead with licence applications to frack wells it has drilled at Banks, between Southport and Preston, and Anna’s Road at Westby, near Lytham.

Its chief executive, Francis Egan, described the announcement as “a turning point” for the UK’s energy industry, following the announcement.

Mr Hayes said: “The critical thing in developing a resource which could have a very beneficial impact on our country is that we do so in a way which is entirely right, safe and secure.

“All we do in respect of energy and drilling - and we have a lot of experience of that in this country with our success in the North Sea - is subject to a rigorous safety regime, but we have gone further.

“We have gone the extra mile to specifically look at the issues associated to fracking in Lancashire and put in place extra protection above and beyond the ones we already have.”

He played down the potential significance of shale gas to meet the UK’s energy demands saying that exploration work needed to be completed by Cuadrilla.

The minister added: “The United States has enjoyed a remarkable effect (from shale gas) in terms of the price of gas there, but it maybe the geology is different, so it maybe ours is of a different scale.

“I would not want to exaggerate the impact, but if there is sufficient amounts of this gas which can be extracted viably, it could have a major impact.”

Cuadrilla chief executive Francis Egan said the UK had “very significant” shale resources and said it was “committed to working safely and responsibly at all times.”

Campaign groups have voiced fears over the threat of the process to air and water pollution as well as the risk of further earthquakes.

Mr Egan said: “Shale gas has the potential to create jobs, generate tax revenues, reduce our reliance on imported gas, and improve our balance of payments.

“Our exploration has shown that under Lancashire there is a belt of gas-filled shale over one mile thick.”

Fylde MP Mark Menzies, whose constituency has been the focus of Cuadrilla’s operations for the past three years, said he welcomed the announcement to ensure the protection of residents and the local environment.

He added: “However, the announcement does not signify the end to this work; rather, I will continue to work with ministers and the new Office of Unconventional Gas and Oil, to ensure all concerns are addressed and answered.”

Richard Evans, senior partner at finance firm KPMG’s office in Preston, said the announcement had “important economic implications” for the Lancashire economy.

But, he said any talk of it leading to an immediate boom in jobs and growth was “premature.”

He added: “However, talk of Lancashire becoming the next Aberdeen is premature, given that shale gas exploration is in its infancy in the UK, and both local communities and environmental protesters are staunchly against fracking.

“The newly-formed Office for Unconventional Gas and Oil, which was announced in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement, could be working overtime to address these concerns.”

Darrell Matthews, regional director of business group, the Institute of Directors, said fracking offered “great potential” for creating new jobs and reducing reliance on “dirty” fuels and importing gas from overseas.

He said: “If we are even half as successful as the shale gas revolution in the US, then this will be a great boost to Britain.

“In America, energy prices have fallen so much that manufacturing is on the rise again with companies bringing production back from the Far East – we should seek a share of that success and create jobs in the North West.”

Fracking to start on two sites in Lancashire, read more here.